As evolutionary and innovative reactor designs get closer to deployment in several countries, regulators are defining the best approaches for evaluating their safety and licensing their operation. This topic is centre stage at the four-day International Conference on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety: Strengthening Safety of Evolutionary and Innovative Reactor Designs, which opened in Vienna on 18 October.
“New nuclear technologies are evolving rapidly and emerging from different parts of the globe,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi in a video address to conference attendees. “Today’s twin crises of climate change and energy insecurity mean we have no time to waste to be part of the solution. I am determined to maximize the assistance and impact the IAEA can have in this area. New technology can bring important benefits to our existing reactors and will offer new solutions to a world increasingly interested in nuclear power. But this will only happen if safety and security come first.”
More than 300 international experts on nuclear safety from 63 IAEA member countries are taking part in the conference in person, while many others are contributing to the sessions virtually. The event is co-organised with the European Commission Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC), the European Technical Safety Organizations Network (ETSON), the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD-NEA), and the World Nuclear Association (WNA).
The conference aims to facilitate discussions to address challenges, opportunities and a path forward towards strengthening the safety of evolutionary and innovative reactor designs. Plenary sessions and panels will cover a range of topics, including the latest discussions on harmonization of safety approaches, robust safety demonstrations for nuclear reactors, including small modular reactor (SMR) and microreactor designs, and a holistic approach to Safety, Security and Safeguards (3S) in innovative designs. Other areas for exchange of information and experience include design safety features, simulation and modelling and artificial intelligence.
Conference President Dr Rosa Sardella, a member of the Executive Board of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), highlighted that “the commitment to nuclear energy for peaceful uses ought to be a long-term strategy.”
“We are currently in a period of evolution of the nuclear industry, and in light of current efforts to combat climate change and to meet the increased global energy demands, many countries are looking to nuclear technologies to reach their goals,” said Lydie Evrard, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “The Agency recognises the important role that evolutionary and innovative reactors, including small modular reactors, will play.” Evrard reiterated that the Agency has put in place an intensive programme of work to ensure that future reviews of the IAEA Safety Standards and Security Guidance consider the new technologies. “In the meantime, we are developing technology specific publications to provide further information on the safety and security of these evolutionary and innovative reactor designs,” she said.
The IAEA has developed several tools, activities and platforms to assist countries with their goals in the area of nuclear technology, including the Platform on Small Modular Reactors and their Applications, launched a year ago. This platform “is providing countries with streamlined access to all the Agency’s services and support on SMRs, from technology development and deployment to nuclear safety, security and safeguards”, said IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy Mikhail Chudakov. “International cooperation and the exchange of information among stakeholders is vital to support design innovations and sustainability.”
In March 2022, the IAEA took a leading role in the harmonisation of safety approaches by launching the Nuclear Harmonisation and Standardisation Initiative (NHSI), which brings together regulators and industry organisations to help countries achieve the effective global deployment of safe and secure innovative and evolutionary reactors. “The key objective of NHSI is to avoid unnecessary duplication of regulatory and industry efforts and to minimize the need to modify the designs to meet different requirements and standards in different countries, while still maintaining high levels of safety,” Evrard said.
IAEA International Conferences on Topical Issues in Nuclear Installation Safety (TIC) have been organised periodically since 1998. TIC2022 is the seventh in the series, preceded by conferences held in Vienna, Austria in 2001, 2013 and 2017; Beijing, China in 2004, and Mumbai, India in 2008.
Image: Delegates at the TIC 2022 conference in Vienna (courtesy of IAEA)